Disability discrimination and equality at work

This section looks at the help available to enable people with disabilities to join or stay in physiotherapy. It also outlines the law against disability discrimination.

A wheelchair

What is the law on disability discrimination?

The law against disability discrimination in England, Wales and Scotland is the Equality Act 2010. There is separate, weaker, legislation in Northern Ireland.

The Equality Act bars employers from discriminating against someone because the individual has a disability, they are connected to someone who has a disability or the employer thinks they have a disability.

The Equality Act puts additional obligations on the NHS (and other public bodies). They must act to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people and take steps to remove their needs. These requirements are called the Public Sector Equality Duty.

This Duty also applies to private firms or charities which carry out public functions.

What conditions count as disability under the law?

The Equality Act defines disability as 'a physical or a mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to do normal day-to-day activities'.

Substantial means 'more than minor or trivial; 'long-term' means it has lasted, or is likely to last, 12 months or will last for the rest of the person’s life.

Certain conditions, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, are automatically covered.

Individuals may not be protected from discrimination at work if their employer does not know about their disability.

Understanding reasonable adjustments for dyslexia

Dyslexia is a complex condition causing an individual to process information differently particularly around reading, writing and numbers.

CSP members shared their experiences of implementing reasonable adjustments for dyslexia in the workplace and at university.

Dyslexia resources

What actions count as disability discrimination in law?

There are six broad types of employer conduct that count as disability discrimination under the law.

Direct discrimination is when the employer treats a disabled person less favourably than they would someone who is non-disabled.

An example could be rejecting an applicant for a promotion just because they have a history of depression.

Indirect discrimination is where an employer has a way of operating that works to the disadvantage of disabled people.

An example could be specifying that applicants for a post must have a driving licence if this is not justifiable for the job. Some people with disabilities, such as epilepsy, are barred from driving.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments is also unlawful disability discrimination. An example might be if an employer refuses to consider paying for taxis for an applicant for community post who is not allowed to drive due to disability.

Discrimination arising from disability is where people are treated badly because of something connected to their disability, such as having an assistance dog.

Harassment of a disabled person is unlawful discrimination. An example might be an employer failing to stop colleagues calling someone with dyslexia 'slow' or 'dozy'.

Victimisation describes a type of unlawful discrimination where an employer treats someone differently because they have previously complained about race discrimination.

Can someone with a disability work in physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is a very flexible profession with many varied clinical and non-clinical specialties.

There is help available to ensure that developing a long-term health condition does not mean the end of a physiotherapy career. Employers have legal duties to provide reasonable adjustments to offset the barriers to work for disabled people.

There is also government assistance to help keep disabled people in work.

Individuals whose disability is a result of a work injury in the NHS may be entitled to ill-health retirement or a payment under an NHS injury scheme.

Government help to enable disabled physiotherapists to work (Access to Work)

The government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme provides money and practical help to overcome barriers that prevent disabled people from working.

Help provided has included adaptations to premises and equipment, training for a team or personalised coaching to develop strategies, provision of a support worker and cash for travel to work.

To get help from AtW, you must have a disability or health condition (physical or mental) that makes it hard for you to do parts of your job or to get to and from work.

The money provided goes to employers to help pay for the adjustments needed, but the scheme’s 'client' is the individual with the disability, and the help is tailored to their specific needs.

Do you have to be in a job to benefit from Access to Work?

You need to have a paid job or be about to start or return to one. But this could include being in:

  • self-employment
  • an apprenticeship
  • a work trial or work experience
  • an internship

Find out if you are eligible for Access to Work

What managers and stewards can do

Checklist for stewards

  • Find out if your Trust has any Equality schemes in place for disabled members of staff, and that Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) are being carried out on all policies and procedures
  • Ensure that managers are aware of Access to Work, and that equality issues are on the agenda at all Joint Negotiating Committee meetings
  • Check all Trust policies to ensure that they do not discriminate against disabled staff and if they need revising raise at the Joint Negotiating Committee
  • Make sure that you are familiar with the requirement for unions to make reasonable adjustments for disabled members, e.g. meetings, dealing with personal cases
  • Ask the individual member what their needs and preferences are
  • Make adjustments to times and venues of meetings, case conferences or other meetings if necessary 39
  • When dealing with personal cases, where possible allow extended appointment times if needed
  • Make accessible information available well in advance
  • Encourage the member to take breaks in meetings where required
  • Enable advocates/friends to be present at meetings
  • Ensure that meetings are either recorded or provide written minutes/notes afterwards
  • Produce documents/papers in different formats
  • Be prepared to travel to the member in some cases if the journey is difficult or the person has issues with mobility
  • If you think you may have an ET case, be aware of time limits and discuss with your SNO at the outset
  • Make sure your members are aware of the CSP DisAbility network and how to join
  • Discuss with your manager carrying out awareness raising exercises in this pack at staff meetings

Checklist for managers

  • Do not assume that people with learning disabilities or mental health problems cannot be valuable employees, or that they can only do low status jobs
  • Consult with each individual – they are the experts on their experience and on what they need
  • Do not assume that because a disabled person may have less (paid) employment experience than a non-disabled person, they have less to offer
  • Ensure that disability equality training is provided to staff, so that they understand their obligations under employer policy, legislation and the practice of reasonable adjustments
  • Ensure that training opportunities are available for disabled staff
  • Make use of the expertise and knowledge of relevant external organisations
  • Monitor the implementation and effectiveness of your policy
  • Inform all staff that conduct which breaches the policy will not be tolerated and respond quickly and effectively to any such breaches
  • Be prepared to deal with acts of disability discrimination by employees under disciplinary rules and procedures
  • Are you aware of Access to Work and how to access funding?
  • Are you aware that staff with carer responsibilities for disabled people are also protected under the Equality Act 2010?
  • Encourage disabled staff to join the CSP DisAbility Network and if possible allow study leave to attend the biannual meetings

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